thinking about gender-neutral pronouns

There have been, and still are, many attempts to address the problem of gender-neutral pronouns in the English language – that is to say, the lack of such pronouns, and the result this lack has on how we define gender identity beyond the conventional dichotomy of male/female. The table below highlights two common ones:

Possessive Adjective
Gender Neutral

I can’t say that I find either of them satisfying. The “hear” sound of the gender neutral set sounds forced when spoken aloud – the “ear” in “hir” is more stretched out than the “er” in “her” or “im” in “him.” As for Spivak, the object pronoun makes me think of Auntie Em, and while I kinda like “emself,” the fact that “eir” sounds identical to a real word – “air” – isn’t appealing. It just sounds weird and adds hot air to a sentence, as it were. I don't like "E" as a subject pronoun, either. It sounds too much like "He," for one thing.

“Them” and “they” are apparently in use as singular gender-neutral pronouns, but blurring the distinction between singular and plural strikes me as an invitation to confusion.

So what to use? The rules a new set of gender-neutral pronouns should adhere to are, I believe:
  1. Distinct from gender pronouns.
  2. Short phonemes; the pronouns should be unobtrusive in a sentence.
  3. Easy to read, especially in relation to the common gender pronouns.
And so, my own humble proposal in accordance with these rules, starting with the Ze subject pronoun that actually works very well. I'll assume the pronunciation is straightforward...

Possessive Adjective

Example, from The Scarlet Pimpernel:
"The terrible danger in which Percy stood, now that ze was actually on French soil, became suddenly and horribly clear to ej. Chauvelin was close upon ej heels; here in Calais, the astute diplomatist was all-powerful; a word from ez and Percy could be tracked and arrested"
- Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Ch. 23

And the original passage for reference:
"The terrible danger in which Percy stood, now that he was actually on French soil, became suddenly and horribly clear to her. Chauvelin was close upon his heels; here in Calais, the astute diplomatist was all-powerful; a word from him and Percy could be tracked and arrested"
- Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Ch. 23

Sure, it's strange at first...but I think one would get used to it after a few paragraphs.

What do you think?


empty, the master baits audiences with craft

If a B-movie is a film lacking in craft but overflowing with appeal, what should we call the inverse? A masterful bore? A well-crafted yawn? Whatever the label, The Master is unquestionably a beautifully crafted work, as one would hope for from the director who gave us the majestic There Will Be Blood. The cinematography is as crisp as the camera work is refined, with a hint of David Lynch’s ability to make the sunny seem indistinctly ominous. Performances feel elemental, almost primal, and that applies as much to supporting roles such as Amy Adams’s eminence grise as to the two characters the film orbits around, Joaquin Phoenix as an unstable war veteran and the L. Ron Hubbard-like figure portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

But all the pieces of The Master do not add up to a masterpiece. If modern art transcends, or falls below, the qualities of representational art, it does so by shifting the burden of interpretation from artist to viewer. In too many cases, the shift is too radical and the work abstracted is to the point where the artist delivers an aesthetic experience that can be either meaningless or meaningful depending on the audience’s charity. This, to me, is why surrealist art is the most satisfying, because it seeks to evoke fluid and intensely personal interpretations, however paradoxical, without fully abandoning the tangibility of representational art. It is the logic of dreams and allegory more so than the logic of reason, and the result of a joint, mutually supportive effort on the part of artist and audience. It is a puzzle with parameters that frame interpretations without fixing meaning, an effort that provides fair game for viewers to play. But I digress.

Anderson’s abstract storytelling offers no parameters with which to interpret the film. His work consists of expression without content. Is Phoenix’s Freddie Quell unhinged as a result of wartime experience, or did the war merely aggravate a previously existing disorder? Anderson is not merely mute on the question, but offers nothing with which to achieve a subjective and personal understanding of the character. This is a film populated by characters without biographies and only the flimsiest of histories, speaking in scenes whose only connection is chronology – and even then, the thread is disturbed by flashbacks and fantasies. With characters detached from any sort of narrative cause and effect, individual scenes mesmerize, meander, and sometimes bore…all the while failing to cohere. And so we have an expressive film not only without content but without drama. We have characters who are constructed from scripted words, lacking humanity and delivered by actors through brilliant but homogenous performances rather than discrete portrayals that bend and flex with the narrative’s ebb and flow.

Thematically, and I use the word loosely, there are hints of psychosexual disturbances, sublimated homoerotism, and more amidst the power dynamics of the film’s relationships. Yet the film takes no stance and, worse, offers viewers no footholds from which to assume a perspective. Even the film’s similarities to Scientology, and the inspiration it draws from Hubbard’s life, achieve no force. The comparison between the film’s “Cause” and Scientology provides context, perhaps, but  is irrelevant and coincidental otherwise.

Just as Socrates commented that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, a film that leaves its topics and characters unexamined isn’t worth thinking about.  The Master baits audiences with the promise of profundity, but confuses emptiness for enigmatic.


dressed for laughter - a review of don't dress for dinner (at TFPO)

The ICT in Long Beach previously served us a dish of deep thought with Red, a study of artist Mark Rothko and his work. With Don’t Dress for Dinner, the company caps off its 2013 season with the sort of play that deliciously frustrates the critical writer, a production whose lack of substance is absolutely irrelevant to its quality and capacity to delight.

Written by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon, Don’t Dress for Dinner offers no psychological depth, no culture critique, no dramatic insight. Nor does it constitute a political protest, act of provocation, morality play, or topical analysis. In short, this is not the sort of play to...

Read the rest of my review at THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

Don't Dress for Dinner, by Marc Camoletti. Adapted by Robin Hawdon. On stage at the International City Theatre in Long Beach from October 9th to November 3rd, 2014. Thursday - Saturday at 8p. Sunday at 2pm. Call 562-436-4610 (M-F 9am – 5pm) or visit www.ictlongbeach.org for tickets and information. 


tylerr pery is no jesus, but he’s still a superstar (at TFPO)

Do the performing arts have an equivalent to dive bars? If so, Santa Monica’s Promenade Playhouse – tucked in a Third Street crevice next to a soap shop – surely must fit the bill. Lest you think that a condemnation, consider that it’s precisely in such raw threadbare spaces that one finds the greatest potential for surprise. We expect sophisticated theatre from marquee theatres with refined architecture. With dive theatres, we leave ourselves deliciously vulnerable to the genuine risks and rewards of discovery.

Such was the case a few years ago with Small Office, a cozy little cubicle dramedy written by Jeremy Evans – a Second City Conservatory graduate whose credits include performance at major comedy, improvisation, and theatrical venues – that offered a smart, often hilarious portrait of personal office politics. It was ideally suited to the space, authentic and genuine, showcasing skilled performers enacting a script that demonstrates the writer’s craft that led Evans to the semi-finals in the Edward Burns Feature Script Contest.

Fitting, then, that I should return to the Playhouse for Evans’s latest piece, the hour-long musical comedy Tylerr Pery Superstar. This time we find Evans in a...

Read the rest of my review of Tylerr Pery Superstar at THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE.

And go support independent theatre.


win free sven clogs!

And how can you win? Read my review of a pair of clogs generously given to me by Sven Clogs for review purposes, and find out how you can get up to three chances to win.

El clogs del fuego


theatre review: oy! is the way to remember (at TFPO)

Oy! is simple in concept but profound, mostly, in effect. Two elderly Jewish sisters, embodied on stage with a full measure of poignant humanity by Mary Eileen O’Donnell and Jeanette Horn, reminisce about World War II, the Holocaust, and their own lives on their return from a trip to Germany to share their experiences with a younger generation in need of a history lesson.

Revived by The Actors' Gang after last year’s successful run, the play by Hélène Cixious is notable for its naturalistic dialogue and its affectionate portrait of sisters who know each other so well that they demonstrate how familiarity breeds, not contempt, but the capacity for deep bonds. Such is the depth of their relationship, and the depth of the performances that we enjoy watching these two ladies weather the irritation of personal quirks and foibles to reveal solidarity of spirit.

Also notable, albeit problematic, is...

Read the rest of my review of Oy!, currently on stage at The Actor's Gang in Culver city, at The Front Page Online.


quick film review: r.i.p.d.

R.I.P.D. demonstrates the principle that if you’re going to emulate, you might as well emulate something worthwhile. Thus, the film’s similarities to the Men in Black franchise with aliens replaced by the lingering and restless dead, men in black suits replaced by cops from various historical ears, and the same general mandate to protect Earth’s population from extraordinary threats.  I cannot write to the film’s relationship to its source graphic novel. All I can say is this: the film, though it doesn’t operate at the same level of zany brilliance of the Men in Black series, has a good sense of humour and a lightness of touch that makes it enjoyable to watch. Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, two of Hollywood’s most likeable actors, have an easy on-screen partnership that enlives the narrative even when the formula begins to grind. Along with visual gags, such as the discrepancy between the heroes’ actual appearance and the way they are perceived by the living, R.I.P.D. is harmless entertainment.

Where the film falters is in its utter lack of ambition, illustrating yet another principle: give Hollywood a clever premise, and they’ll market the imagination right out of it. I can only imagine what the result would have been had R.I.P.D. modeled itself after a lesser film…


book review: greek for beginners (at TFPO)

There are some books you know you need, and then there are books like Greek Mythology for Beginners. You don’t know you need them until you hold them in your hands. As author/illustrator Joe Lee rightly points out, the tales of Greek gods, heroes, villains, and epic (as well as occasionally lurid) achievements have resonated throughout the centuries in our literature, art, and pop culture. The value of Greek Mythology for Beginners, then, is...Read the rest at The Front Page Online


Man of Steel, Man of Lead

I'm playing catch up with movies I saw over the past summer but didn't have time to write about, beginning with Man of Steel. Beware, spoilers!

I have no objection to a film rooted in a pessimistic worldview –  provided the narrative is thoughtful and the filmmakers resist the impulse towards bad faith nihilism. Though cynical, Man of Steel is thankfully not bleak. It does, however, falter unpleasantly in the by-now infamous third act climactic confrontation.

Up until that wrong turn, the film is astonishingly good.  Krypton’s depiction lives up to the finest science-fiction traditions with richly rendered culture and technology that is appropriately alien and ungraspable despite its surface humanity. The reimagining of General Zod as a patriot intent on restoring Krypton – politically in the light of a government he disagrees with and then literally after its destruction – rather than as a criminal offers a refreshing and surprisingly personal take on a classic Superman villain. As the catalyst for Clarke Kent’s rapid evolution into Superman, Zod’s conception drives forward an exciting plot that twists the alien invasion narrative into something more than the product of megalomania. Most importantly, Goyer’s script offers a credible portrait of an alien in an alien land, struggling to find a place in a world that would fear him for his superhuman ability – at least, if Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Pa Kent is to be believed. Insofar as Clarke spends the movie defining the balance between the humanity of his unbringing and the otherness of Kryptonian heritage, Man of Steel offers surprising depth.

Of course, this leads me to declare the handsome man himself, Henry Cavill, as perfectly suited to the role with a rugged physicality that balances Superman’s square-jawed nobility with Clark Kent’s human vulnerability. Cavill makes it inviting and effortless to invest’s oneself in Kent’s journey from confused everyman to a Superman. Other cast members are also wisely chosen for their roles, with Russell Crowe especially noteworthy as Jor-El, the scientist who foresees Krypton’s demise. He brings great dignity to the story as the sole memory of a dead world to its last son.

Yet Snyder’s talent for spectacle, an asset in depicting a clash of titans to earth-shattering effect, is betrayed by his thoughtless exuberance. Once the movie trades drama for fisticuffs, not even the appropriately-named Smallville is spared from the excesses of collateral damage delivered with flair but without moral awareness. The issue is not so much the fact of destruction, but that it occurs without Superman’s consideration for consequences, a lapse that seems distinctly uncharacteristic for a character conceived as a paragon of virtue. "In ancient mythology, mass deaths are used to symbolize disasters,” says Snyder in response to criticism of his callous display of mass destruction. Here’s a brief memo to the director: mass deaths are not symbols of disasters, they are disasters. His inability to make the distinction trivializes his efforts at serious storytelling and undermines the very mythology he aims to create.

Nowhere is this fault more apparent, or disheartening, than in Snyder and Goyer’s decision to have Superman kill Zod rather than, as Christopher Nolan apparently preferred, returning him to the Phantom Zone in which he had previously been imprisoned. Ostensibly intended to lay the foundation for Superman’s aversion to killing, the scene suffers immediately from awkward and unconvincing staging – Zod about to burn an innocent family to death with heat-ray vision. (Couldn’t Superman just have put his hands over Zod’s eyes?) Once past the twist’s credibility, or lack thereof, the shallow moral reasoning underlying the decision to turn Superman into a brute becomes apparent. Question: why is it necessary for a man to kill someone in order to appreciate the value of not killing when he spends his entire life in fear of causing harm through his superior strength and powers? Answer: the decision makes no sense as it reinforces a point that doesn’t require reinforcement. Just as The Dark Knight ended on a strange and false moral dilemma, Man of Steel uses a contrived quandary to resolve a plot point and defer character development to a future installment.

What Man of Steel ultimately lacks, then, after a movie setting up a fearful world on the brink of destruction, is the hope that Superman is meant to embody. Although I’ve never been a fan of the character, preferring to stake my flag in Batman’s camp, I have come to appreciate the contrast he presents to his grim Gotham counterpart thanks to J. Michael Straczynski’s Earth One series of graphic novels. Yet that contrast is not so evident in Man of Steel. More than merely a superior physical being capable of wielding great brute force, Superman is distinguished from the fascist superman criticism often leveled against superheroes through his qualities of self-sacrifice, willingness to put himself at risk, and the way in which he deploys his power in the aid of those with none. Forget notions of moral complexity; Superman works best as the hero who makes the right decision no matter what, precisely because it is the right thing to do. The fact that most humans aren’t capable of such clarity, or willing to stand up for principle, is arguably what makes Superman so, well, super more so than the ability to fly. At least, that’s my impression of how it should be. Man of Steel, though beautiful filmed with moments of genuine heart and concussive action, ultimately proves to be Man of Lead, the case study for what is problematic about Hollywood’s treatment of superhero stories.

Considered in conjunction with The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel even raises questions as to whether Christopher Nolan and David Goyer are well-suited to two of our most iconic comic book characters. Nolan et al ultimately dismantled Batman, reducing the character to a neurotic reactionary with high-tech toys who, ultimately, finds peace by abandoning the cape and cowl. And this, after a movie that undermines the character’s rationale – such as having Catwoman kill Bane in a repudiation of Batman’s no guns / no killing policy. This isn’t to say Nolan’s vision is wrong – a large part of Batman’s appeal other than his style and grim humanity is his malleability – but that it is a vision that ultimately doesn’t mesh with my understanding of the character. Still,  if Nolan and Goyer’s take on Batman, inspired by Frank Miller’s crypto-fascist interpretation, doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other versions to latch on to. For me, I go for the cool professional, noir detective interpretation as in the Animated Series and some comics (e.g. Dean Motter’s Batman: Nine Lives) and the gothic hero of Tim Burton’s films. Failing to build up the character after tarnishing him in The Dark Knig, Nolan’s last word on Batman in The Dark Knight Rises struck me as an argument against the character. (See my review here.) Similarly, the vision of Superman driven by Snyder and Goyer with Nolan’s imprimatur also strikes me as a refutation of the character rather than an affirmation. In both franchises, idealism is rejected in favour of cynicism stamped as “realism,” a decision that betrays the possibility of heroism and the ability for individuals to inspire others to be better. It ultimately embodies the philosophy of raw power, the triumph of the strong over the weak, rather than, say, Enlightenment ideals. Both Batman and Superman in the Nolan-verse of films achieve their exalted state because of their ability to outfight their opponents, not because they act according to a superior ideology.

Marvel is not the answer to all this gloom. Although lighter and chock-full of alternately fun and tedious escapism, the Marvel film universe shows all the signs of indulging what I find unappealing about mainstream comics: a propensity for escalating the fantastical into nonsense, and soapy operatics in which narratives have no force since anything and everything is possible. Marvel’s films are harmless in that they pit superpowered heroes against similarly superpowered villains ordinary mortals stand no chance against. Yet that too a reductionist view of good versus evil that, with a few exceptions such as Spider-Man, is so insubstantial it puffs away once the story comes to an end. So what happens next for comic book movies, if Marvel and DC only put out profitable but hollow products?


don't miss seeing "Red" at the ICT (at TFPO)

Red is my kind of play; cerebral yet laced with a passion whose dosage straddles the line between poison and remedy. Where much theatre dwells in the granularity of raw human drama, begging the question as to whether it’s possible to achieve any greater insight now than in the past, Red chooses instead to confront the trials of civilization. Think of it as climbing Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and focusing attention on its apex, the need for self-realization. The vehicle for expressing the pinnacle of self-realization?

Read the rest of my review at The Front Page Online.

Red runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m. and Sundays @ 2 p.m., through Sept. 15. Tickets are $38 on Thursdays and $45 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Preview tickets are $29. International City Theatre is in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. For reservations and information, call the ICT box office at 562.436.4610 or visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.com.


Forget Judas, It’s the Audience Who Undergoes the Trial (at TFPO)

The last time I occupied an uncomfortable seat at the Hudson Theatre's dingy Backstage, it was for Julia Sweeney's atheist epiphany Letting Go of God. Ironic, then, that the same space would be given over to an exercise in Christian apologetics. The difference between the two theatrical efforts, other than religious polarity and separation in years, is that Sweeney's monologue is rooted in personal experience and presented with genuine emotion, humour, and insightful reflection. By contrast, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis is the very model of artifice, an indulgence of religion's worst instinct to fabricate comforting, self-serving answers in the absence of meaningful evidence and reason. The only suspense is waiting to discover whether Guirgis’s convictions are those of a playwright or a propagandist.

Read the rest of my review of The Last Days of Iscariot, on stage at the Hudson Backstage until August 24, at The Front Page Online.


no place on earth like joshua tree national park

Standing in Joshua Tree

hand at the canteen,
squinting the distance.
forests spread in shimmer.
supplicants among bubbling
sculptures, botanic
in their mystery,
vast with the patience
of geology. cryptic
messengers with media,
an atmosphere of bone.

creatures of earth 
and nooks. parched
yet vegetating 
ground. muses sprout 
here too, spirits 
dense with time;
skeletal and bountiful.
the illusion of desolation
hides the raw
materials of meaning.

Images from a lovely Memorial Day weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park:

Welcome to Spin and Margies
Welcome to Spin and Margie's, our home away from home.

Joshua Tree Impressionistic Night
Impressionistic desert night.
Roadside Joshua Trees
Roadside Joshua trees.

Ryan Ranch Homestead Bighorn Sheep 2
Bighorn sheep! A rare and special encounter!

Ryan Ranch Homestead Ruins Vista
Vista with ruins from the Ryan homestead.

Desert Queen Mine Rock Formation (corr)
Desert Queen Mine - note the mineshaft at the bottom right.

Pine City Monzogranite
Pine City monzogranite rock formation.

Wall Street Mill Building Remnants 3
The abandoned Wall Street Mill.

Wall Street Mill Car Remnants 3
Ruined car at the Wall Street Mill.

For more images, click ye here.


Dead Men, Cell Phone Tales (at TFPO)

Dead men may not tell tales, but they do leave cell phones behind. Shenanigans invariably ensue, especially when a bold, foolish soul picks up the ringing nuisance and answers the call. Such is the premise for Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a play auspiciously heralded by the Ghost of Stephen Foster, one of many songs by the great, spicy band Squirrel Nut Zippers that electrify the score. 

Read my review of Dead Man's Cell Phone, on stage at the International City Theatre in Long until June 30th, at The Front Page Online.


gatsby is great

First, a lesson about watching films adapted from novels: never read a novel before seeing its corresponding film. That way leads to madness, as the burdened brain latches on and amplifies every little detail the movie gets wrong until it explodes in a shower of dissatisfaction. Allow some space and time between book and movie, however, and it becomes possible to appreciate the story as fitted into its medium. Thus, drawing on a lesson learned from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which only truly came into its own for me once my memory shed everything but the novel’s highlights, I avoided revisiting Fitzgerald’s novel to appreciate Lurhman’s adaptation on its own terms.

And now, with that little bit of wisdom imparted, on to the movie.

Sumptuous filmmaking, decadent excess, a cheerfully anachronistic score – Baz Luhrman, singular among those few directors who rate as auteurs, knows how to throw a party. And with F. Scott Fitzgerald as master of ceremonies, the result is cinema that moves as well as it dazzles.

Curiously, the rumblings that made it past my filters suggested disappointment, as if Lurhman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby was yet another of those hollow spectacles Hollywood is fond of. I would argue that, as a visual medium, it is an achievement for a film to achieve a genuinely cinematic quality, the kind that demands a large screen in a darkened theatre. Too many films deliver this story, than quietly fade to black. Lurhman’s zesty work is certainly cinematic with its directorial acumen and brilliant production, of which the costume design is but its most obvious ambassador. The spectacle is perhaps too underappreciated in general, perhaps a bit too readily made subservient to substance. With respect to those quiet little dramas stripped of frills and flourishes in the name of authenticity – and many of my favourite films are as technically unassuming as they are narratively forceful – their lack of spectacle often calls into question the need for a large screen. In this is the reason why viewers enjoy the summer blockbuster season, despite complaints about nonsensical plots and craven attempts to part people from their money through inflated ticket prices; because sometimes we just want to be struck with awe, to be shown a story in a way that we cannot experience in reality. In delivering the jazz age in all its quasi-libertine glory, and depicting the stark contrast between the world of the wealthy and that of the poor, an exuberant director like Lurhman is, indeed, the right person for Fitzgerald’s material.

Of course, if the spectacle comes imbued with substance we can declare ourselves successful discoverers of the Holy Grail. This is where the disappointment with The Great Gatsby is puzzling, because the film fills every beautiful frame with Fitzgerald’s characters and narrative. The nuances are there: the character flaw that leads Gatsby to his undoing, the unjust social context that amplifies his nostalgia to tragic proportions, the exposure of cold class warfare whose combatants invariably run hot. Tobey Maguire, as the story’s observer and narrator Nick Caraway, offers a grounded and subtly poignant perspective on a tragedy that is Shakespearean in scope but also uniquely American – which is, naturally, what makes the novel such as a seminal work. Leonardo DiCaprio, a natural charmer with considerable emotive power, embodies Gatsby with all the pathos the role demands. And the cast overall, which includes Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, add to the well-written script’s refutation of the notion that Lurhman did little more than assume the Wizard of Oz’s persona.

While there are no doubt differences and liberties taken from the novel – such as a framing story in which Nick Calloway, undergoing psychiatric counseling, recounts his experience with Gatsby to a kindly doctor – the film distills the novel’s essence into a cinematic vessel that holds its own. The proof lies in this: whereas Gatsby falls victim to a monstrous tragedy, we nevertheless achieve a vindication of sorts. Like Nick Calloway, and unlike the story’s other characters, we can bear witness that Gatsby is better than the peers whose status he aspired to, that he is indeed great. That Lurhman is capable of evoking of sense of hope amidst a sense of tragedy, however bittersweet the blend, rates as a success.


inflaming the shrew (at TFPO)

Could the fault, dear reader, be not in our Bard but in ourselves, that we are sensitive? Controversial among Shakespeare’s plays, the Taming of the Shrew could just as easily be called The Making of a Stepford Wife for its misogynistic proclamation of female submission to husbands...While the text is the text, the play’s delivery can achieve some measure of ironic detachment from the material with the right troupe, enough to achieve a satirical rather than literal effect. Despite a promising start, the Theatricum Botanicum is...

Read the rest of my review of the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum's staging of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at The Front Page Online.


art you can see through (at TFPO)

X-rays may not seem the likeliest of artistic mediums, but let’s be honest. Despite potentially morbid diagnoses and comparisons to Where’s Waldo? or Rorschach tests, X-ray prints possess a distinctive aesthetic that can mesmerize even folk who don’t frequent the uniquely fantastic Melrose Boulevard curio-seller, Necromance. Beyond the otherworldly photographic effect, x-rays are laced with an ineffable aura of awesome. After all, they let us see through and inside things. It thus seems like the most likely of art mediums using technology more advanced than paint brushes and film cameras.

Enter Dr. Paula Fontaine, a podiatric surgeon and artist, with computer wizard Joseph Moisan.

Read the rest of my feature on Radiant Art Studios, which includes an interview with the x-ray artists themselves, at The Front Page Online.


the vio-lens of film

Ryan Gosling's new film Only God Forgives, currently screening at Cannes, was apparently booed. But that's not the interesting bit. This is, from an article at the Toronto Star:
The gore quotient in the film is high even for Winding Refn. It includes eye gouging, head piercing and an appalling act of desecration of a body that can’t be described here, other than to say it might well have sent Sigmund Freud calling for his mommy.
Winding Refn made no apologies for any of this, and actually seemed to revel in it all at the press conference. Peering imperiously through his black glasses, he chided a British female journalist for bringing up the topic of movie violence: “You sound like my mother!”
“Art is an act of violence,” he continued. “Art is about penetration. … I approach things very much like a pornographer. It’s about what arouses me. And certain things turn me on more than other stuff, and I can’t supress [sic] that. … I have surely a fetish for violent emotion and violent images and I can’t explain where it comes from.”

Setting aside the fact that art is not about penetration - how very patriarchal and phallocentric of Refn to believe so - and that art is most certainly not an act of violence, however one might debate the nuances of the equivocation, at least he is honest about his relationship to film violence. This is more than can be said for most, who insist on dressing up their fetish with all kinds of rationales without acknowledging the underlying impulse.


star trek into nowhere: an unreview

Though I never came close to reaching the peak of pointed-eared fandom seen in conventions, there was a time when Star Trek was, if not an obsession, than at least a pleasant passion. As Roddenberry’s concept changed from an iconoclastic and, above all, earnest science-fiction vision to a profitable franchise, that passion gradually weakened with each successive Trek series and movie not involving the original crew. Despite inevitable and often more than quibbling reservations about characters and storylines here and there, I did develop an affection for The Next Generation, once it grew into its own, as a vehicle for genuinely outstanding and humane science fiction – the first and last episodes of the series, for example, count among the best science fiction stories. Deep Space Nine started strong and collapsed into a distinctly un-Roddenberrian heap of militarism, cynicism, and religiosity. Voyager, though compelling on account of its premise and characters, often suffered from a lack of ambition and a lazy overreliance on time-travel or Borg stories. Enterprise held a lot of promise, although like many I had my suspicions about the viability of a prequel series. Still, the Trek show with the lousy theme song managed to be likeable on account of its characters even though its militaristic narrative arcs were contrived and unsatisfying.

If I were to sum up what it is I love about Star Trek in general, it would be the blend of speculative science fiction, human drama, and optimistic vision of the future (which wasn’t as Pollyanna-ish as many people seem to think). And while any individual Star Trek story might have been more strongly focused on character operatics than sci-fi concept,s these stories earned it because of a rich history of episodes that built up the Trek universe and made significant efforts at offering narratives that were, indeed, rooted in  high-concept speculative science.

This brings me to J.J. Abrams reboot, which left me unimpressed the first time around. Now we have a second, which I’m even less enthused about on the basis of this “official” synopsis:

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

Force of terror? Personal score to settle? Weapon of mass destruction? Sounds like the first film, which involved a force of terror (vengeful Romulan) with a personal score to settle (the death of his family and home planet) using a weapon of mass destruction (a time-travelling ship with devastating weapons). Setting aside the gorgeous production design and solid casting (characterizations notwithstanding), J. J. Abrams and his scriptwriters Orci and Kurzman entirely failed to deliver, in their first foray, an actual Star Trek film. Since the arguable failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the studio system has struggled to take Star Trek away from Roddenberry and, despite the sincere efforts of individuals committed to his vision if not his continued involved, finally found in J.J. Abrams the man capable of decisively clipping the Great Bird’s wings.

What he delivered was a story predicated on violence and destruction, delivered with style and special effects capable of deceiving audiences into thinking they watched a better movie than they had. And judging from the previews, synopses, and a few reviews, it seems like they’ve done it again with Star Trek Into Darkness. Once again, Hollywood proves itself the carnival barker that promises a classly striptease in the red velvet tent only to deliver a moonshine-soaked hoochie show instead.

However much I respect those who click with Abrams’ vision for Star Trek and wish them well in their enjoyment, I have no intention of watching Star Trek Into Darkness. Perhaps my impression of the film as yet another exercise in boldly going nowhere is wrong…however articles like this one by Spinoff’s Anna Pinkert suggest I’m not. We could debate the quality of the script writing (poor, in my opinion, and overly riddled with plot holes and inconsistent characterizations) and other aspects of the film, but ultimately I’m not interested because there’s little about this rebooted Star Trek that recalls to me what I loved about the original. Crucially, it’s not even a science fiction story, merely yet another plot about violence and aggression in an industry obsessed with exploiting violence and aggression for entertainment.

massaging the medium with marshall mcluhan (at TFPO)

Perhaps it indicates a gap in my education, or merely underlines the fact that my reading list exceeds my lifespan. But my only exposure to Marshall McLuhan so far has been through his post-modern disciple Jean Baudrillard and pop-culture memes. Yet, like most people plugged into the cybernetic zeitgeist, I am firmly entrenched in the strong field of influence generated by McLuhan’s often pithy media theory. A book like McLuhan for Beginners, then, is a timely wakeup call to take a moment and consider one of the 20th century’s foremost media and culture theorists even if that consideration reveals – as it does with Baudrillard – a mixture of brilliance and puffery. Read the rest of my review of McLuhan for Begineers at TFPO.


a crash course in corporate profiteering

Strictly in pop-political terms, it seems as if conservatives are generally in favor of corporations but suspicious of government (aka the deregulated "free market"), while liberals are suspicious of corporations but in favor of government. Although the evils of government are easy to list, it is often too easy to forget the good that government can do, such as roads and social safety nets. Nevertheless, the ability of the private sector to fulfill the public-good functions of government is a powerful ideology. And that ideology fails to take in account situations such this one, recently reported by the Associated Press:

AP IMPACT: Cars made in Brazil are deadly

It seems that Brazil has four times the fatalities in passenger car accidents than the US, and the problem is "the cars themselves, produced with weaker welds, scant safety features and inferior materials compared to similar models manufactured for U.S. and European consumers, say experts and engineers inside the industry. Four of Brazil's five bestselling cars failed their independent crash tests."

Carmakers, of course, claim their cars meet Brazilian safety laws, although "the country's few safety activists perceive a deadly double standard, with automakers earning more money from selling cars that offer drivers fewer safeguards." They might, indeed, be following the law...and if that law happens to result in considerably less safety than, say, US law...well, tough luck for Brazilian drivers, right? Caveat emptor.

The lesson is that, when left to their own initiative, it is all-too-easy for corporations to choose profit above people and the environment. Examples such as this highlights the fact that corporate authority is something to be wary of just as much as government authority, a position that ultimately rejects the doctrinal positions of both pop-conservatism and pop-liberalism, as well as refutes libertarianism as fundamentally misguided (read: fatally flawed) anarcho-capitalism. Ultimately, the problem is an age-old conundrum. Just as there is good governance and bad governance (in the moral sense), there is good business and bad business. The difference between the good and the bad is, of course, people.


Can Baggers Be Choosers? (at TFPO)

Culver City's City Council will vote on Monday on whether or not to ban plastic bags. Naturally, it has created quite the debate. Here's a round-up of op-ed pieces at The Front Page Online, culminating in my own contribution:

And mine:

If nothing else, the proposed ban on plastic bags has ignited a much-needed public discussion on our environmental impact, with a focus on two issues: Public health and resource management. The most pressing question that arises is this: Do you wash your underwear?

Read the rest here:  Can Baggers Be Choosers?

What do you think? To ban or not to ban?


heeeeey margarita!

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone, but a good margarita recipe lives forever. I've been struggling over the years to come up with the perfect, or near-perfect, go-to recipe for a  classic margarita - the kind I can just pull out of my cocktail book, mix up, and not worry about.

Although I've come up with interesting variations, like a pineapple-guava margarita, the classic eluded me. So I tried looking online for an alternative to the book I had so far been using, and came across a simple recipe that used tequila, cointreau, and lime juice in a 3:1:2 ratio.

It didn't work.

So with my wife's far superior palate as final arbiter, I heavily modified the above recipe to come up with a margarita that has all the flavour I expect: Sweet, but not cloying, with ever-so-slightly dominant citrus notes, and a finishing jab wearing padded gloves.

The right tasty result:


I call it the Social Margarita, because the quantities are intended to yield two servings for sharing.

You will need:
  • two margarita glasses
  • cocktail shaker
  • ice
  • salt (optional)
  • lime wedges or slice
In the shaker, mix the ice with the following:
  • 3.75 oz of tequila
  • 1.5 oz of grand marnier
  • 1 oz of BOLS triple sec
  • 2 oz of fresh lime juice (or juice that is not from concentrate)
Wet the rims of the glasses with the lime slices, than salt as desired. Pour in the mix with the ice, and garnish with a wedge or slice of lime. Finally, enjoy.

Give it a try and let me know how it turns for you. Just remember: margarita recipes are very personal indeed. If this one doesn't do the trick for you, experiment and share your results with me!



science fiction's forget-me-not (@TFPO)

Like Lucifer, only without the theological trappings of sin, Joseph Kosinski set out to bring some light into the normally dimly-lit visions of Hollywood science fiction. It’s a logical step. His work on Tron: Legacy was entirely rooted in the play of light on dark in an agile, design-driven cinematography of contrast. Rebutting Ridley Scott’s pitch-grime Prometheus (or, as he points out in an interview with the L.A. Times, the original Alien film), Kosinski engages the opportunity for brightly imagined vistas, whose appeal James Cameron reignited with Avatar, all the while delivering high-concept science fiction inspired by the character-driven films he grew up with in the seventies. The result makes stunning use of natural landscapes (Ireland is a star) and design spanning architectural and industrial concepts – without blurring the wistful character study’s focal point as typically happens in more technology-obsessed blockbusters. From the beautiful bubble ship design – a practical and not virtual object – to the tower habitats that loom far above the earth’s surface, to the sweeping landscapes of a planet haunted by the memory of civilization, the clarity and brightness of Kosinski’s work marks him as a visionary. Read the rest at The Front Page Online


oz the mostly great and, surprisingly, powerful (at TFPO)

The pop-culture prominence of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and, much more recently, the magical world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, stand on the shoulders of two classic fantasy realms: Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Frank L. Baum’s Oz. Of the two, Wonderland received much fanfare and reinvigoration in the form of a recent blockbuster movie. Oz had to be content with the musical Wicked, until Disney stepped in.

I cannot say, however, that the renewed interest in the land of munchkins and yellow bricks road did anything to revise my rather lukewarm relationship to anything Oz-related. Given a choice of exotic travel destinations, my unhesitating choice would be...read the rest at The Front Page Online 


a debate that's out of (gun) control (at TFPO)

A topic so big, it took two parts for me to (barely) scratch the surface.

Part 1

In discussing gun rights and gun control, let’s begin with a clarification: While gun bans can be elements of gun control policy, the reverse isn't necessarily true. Gun control is, by definition, a set of policies intended to manage the ownership and use of firearms. Inconveniently, perhaps, for gun rights ideologues, the very idea of gun control begins the moment we...

Part 2

Another understandable, albeit less reasonable, concern on the part of the gun lobby is the worry that arises from requiring universal background checks, an idea that strikes gun rights advocates like the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre as equivalent to a gun registry. If the government knows who has guns, the argument goes, they will know where to go to confiscate those guns. But let’s consider the conceptual difference between a universal background check and a gun registry...


Les Miserables (at TFPO)

I never did get the chance to see the theatrical production of Les Misérables; such are the vagaries of the calendar. Fortunately, there is this magnificent film from the director of the superlative crowd-pleaser, The King’s Speech. The leap from stage to screen is entirely sensible for the sort of big-spectacle theatre. What cinema lacks in the energy of a live performance, it makes up for in a kinetic energy all its own as well as a natural affinity for grandeur. What an epic story Les Misérables is, the human condition writ upon a canvas with bold strokes of revolution, hope and love amidst humanity’s cruel capacity for inhumanity. 

Read the rest at The Front Page Online...


my week with windows 8 (at TFPO)

Well, two weeks actually.

Part the First

If you believe the tech trades and the various opinionators who lurk in the articles’ comments section, Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8, is the second coming of the much-maligned Windows Vista or, if you really want to give yourself the heebie-jeebies, Microsoft Bob...After a week working with Windows 8 on my office workstation, I'm gaining enough experience to reach a verdict of my own. Thus, the questions: Is Windows 8 a win or a fail? Read the rest here.

Part the Second

After almost two weeks of working with Windows 8, I’ve gained enough experience to reinforce my suspicion that critics of the OS are either operating with a bias against Microsoft or are simply old dogs whimpering at new tricks. An unfair characterization, no doubt, but I remain baffled at the hostility towards Windows 8. In my experience, Windows is just like Windows 7, only with a Start screen instead of a Start menu. Read the rest here.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (at TFPO)

I've returned to active writing duty at The Front Page Online, beginning with a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey...

Time has passed since Jackson first materialized Middle Earth in a trilogy of films that made pure fantasy fashionable again, although I’ll stick with the Harry Potter films as the superior accomplishment. My opinion of Tolkien’s work hasn’t changed – imagination and exhaustive attention to detail put to the service of a dull and shallow narrative – yet I’ve come to appreciate that imagination and detail through Jackson’s breathtaking rendition of Tolkien’s universe...

Read the rest of "An Unexpected Pleasure" at The Front Page Online.